Factor e Live Distillations – Part 3 – Towards an Open Source Tractor

I apologize for not posting the next video sooner, but a flurry of conversations following the debut of the 1000 True Fans – 1000 Global Villages campaign kept us busy. We already have 12 subscribers. Who will be next? To support our work, you can subscribe by committing to $10 per month, for the next two years. Take the red pill – and dare to change the world. Here is the PayPal subscription button, where you can use either PayPal, credit card, or bank account to commit to the subscription.

Today’s episode covers the open source tractor – Lifetrac. We have built a first prototype, with very encouraging results. We start with a brief description of LifeTrac and what we’ve done and where we’re going – and why this could be really important to you.

First, what is LifeTrac? It’s a simple yet high-performance, 4-wheel drive, tractor/skid loader in one, with articulated steering. We have build a number of prototype attachments – loader, backhoe, rototiller, tooth bar bucket for digging, CEB press,  power take-off (PTO) shaft, and PTO generator.

What is unique? Most of the above in nothing new or special. But, here’s how it’s different. First – it is absolutely simplest design.

It’s merely a box with wheels. It is made out of ordinary 4” steel tube available at your local metal supply. It is bolted together – or design for disassembly. This is essentially a life-size erector set in action. Indeed, the entire tractor can be taken apart with wrenches, down to steel, nuts, and bolts – in the period of 1 hour by a 4-person team. We will document this at a future date.

Continuing with the discussion – the engine powers a hydraulic pump – which supplies hydraulic fluid  to power everything, from cylinders to motors. All parts are exposed. The above simplicity and transparency make it simple to maintain and repair – thus providing for a lifetime design tractor. Make or buy it once – and you’ll never have to buy another IN YOUR WHOLE LIFE. Plus, you can pass it down to your children’s grandchildren.

But that’s only the beginning. If you are familiar with tractors, you will appreciate when I say that LifeTrac is a skid-steer AND agricultural tractor – IN ONE. Basically, LifeTrac can go back and forth rapidly like a skid loader, and it can do agriculture like a tractor.  See details of comparison on the wiki.

But that’s also only the beginning, because we are doing 10-fold price optimization over the competition. We are not inventing anything new. We are just opensourcing. This means optimizing – by using open source design, development, and Community Supported Manufacturing. Did you know that you already paid for our fabrication facility by donations? You already shared the capitalization risk – and we’ll be giving back to you with optimized production of optimized product.

It can also be said that we have nothing yet – but IF – and only IF – we stopped here and did no further work on LifeTrac.

This is where I must point out that there is a huge difference between a prototype and a viable product. Right now, we only have a prototype. We then take each issue one by one, and solve it. It is simply a matter of continuing the effort-  so that you have a lifetime product that never depreciates in value. That’s a tall order. This is where we are going, and this is why we are asking you to sign up to support us as True Fans – tor the next 2 years at $10 per month. Sign up.

Better yet – you can contributes by coming here to do physical development. For example Sam Rose – our first True Fan – is coming here in Spring to document our LifeTrac work in detail and to write a proposal. We invite you to also get involved – whether in LifeTrac or any other of our developments.

Let me put it this way -  if we can deliver a machine that outperforms any competition and costs 10 times less – is it woth supporting? The answer is obvious. The next question is – is it possible?

It’s time to return to the economic analysis. The base cost for the tractor with loader materials was $4k, using almost all new parts. If we consider fabrication at $50 per hour – with digital fabrication  – or cutting out all metal on a CNC torch table,  it takes about 40 hours to produce the tractor. Sounds optimistic? Yes if you are talking about a traditional tractor, but not if you are talking about a simple – but high performance – box with wheels. The total is $6k if you include labor for a turnkey product, $5k if you buy a kit that you assemble yourself. The counterpart from mainstream competition is $50 k for a separate skid loader and tractor.
So we have Factor 10 engineering. We’ll be discussing the production model in further episodes – as this claim is radical – and you are probably skeptical of this ridiculously low production cost.

It gets better, though. Now we consider LifeTrac WITH just about every implement conceivable. These range  – from sawmilling, CEB pressing, well-drilling, farming, combining, to digging, earth moving, shoveling snow, and so forth. To illustrate the cost difference for the open source version – compared to that of standard off-shelf equipment – we simply sum up the running totals. The open source infrastructure costs $30k. The industrial cost is a quarter million:

This assumes skilled labor at $50 per hour in the scenario of community supported manufacturing.

For price comparison, you could buy a new car – or the entire LifeTrac infrastructure above for building and feeding an entire village or community – for the same amount.

What if you’re not into agriculture or building? Let me put in another way. If you eat, you are involved in the food system. If you live in a house, you are involved with the building industry. If you would like these two areas to be carried out more ecologically –- then a robust, inexpensive tool that can help do this – can also help put many more people in business, doing local agriculture or sustainable building.

I’d like to wrap up by inviting you to leave a comment on this blog or sending us an email to opensourceecology at gmail dot com. What is your feedback? In particular – are we accurate in our interpretations and predictions? Do you think this work is important enough to be supported financially?

That’s all for now. We’ll cover the CEB press tomorrow.


  1. mb21

    Hey, I really like your ideas, hope you’re getting on with them.

    Just a brief technical note about the video: it would be SO MUCH BETTER and easier to watch if you continued to talk while showing pictures, diagrams or footage from the tractor. That way you could show the pictures way longer (so we’d actually see something of them) and it’s boring to have to look at your face all the time (don’t take it personal ;-)). Actually this is not that hard to do, you just need to seperate the audio and the video.. personally I think iMovie is the best simple movie editor and it ships with every Mac. Or if you’re on Linux I heard the open source Kino and Cinelerra work quite well. Anyway:

    Good luck and keep up the good work!

  2. Antique Tractors for Sale

    I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my reader.